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A Short, Blunt Treatise
on July 22, 2005
As many of you know, I rarely write about the craft of acting. My bailiwick is more properly described the "doing business" side of the acting profession. However, I do appreciate those who do write about the "nuts and bolts" of acting professionally, so I thought I'd share this review of David Mamet's latest book, True and False, which appeared in the August 04 issue of my newsletter, Hollywood How-To.
I first became acquainted with David Mamet when I worked on the Los Angeles production of American Buffalo in 1978. I must admit I didn't like the play very much but, hey, a gig is a gig.
A couple of years later I saw the PBS production of The Water Engine and I was engaged by the performance of William H. Macy - and I liked the premise of the piece. But I still thought the play was lacking.
Then I saw A Life In The Theatre and I became a fan. To me, it was the first play about acting that really got to the heart of the actor's life and problems. It was obviously written by someone who had a great love of acting and actors. It was a revelation.
I have watched Mamet's writing and directing career ever since. His book, Writing in Restaurants was one of my own touchstones as I pursued my own love of writing. It has become obvious over the intervening years that David Mamet is a force to be reckoned with in the American theatre. In the fullness of time I have no doubt that his influence will be considered crucial to the development of modern acting and story-telling.
When he made the move into motion pictures, first as a writer and then as writer/director, he delivered some of the most startling and amazing stories and performances of the late twentieth century - right up through today. Not that every time at bat was a home run - but every effort was unique and entrancing. Anyone who wants a glance "behind the scenes" of a movie production is advised to see State and Main which I believe is the truest and funniest portrayal of what goes on in the making of a movie.
His latest book, True and False, is the finest book I've read about acting since I first started reading Stanislavsky's trilogy (a must for every actor). Mamet cuts right to the chase in this amazing book. It is not a tome, but rather a short, blunt treatise on the craft of acting that I cannot recommend too highly.
Before you run out and get a copy though, I have a caveat: This book is not for the beginning actor. Until you have spent some time on the boards, plying your craft, much of what Mamet says might be confusing and perhaps even misleading. The reason is simple - this book was written for the employed actor who is looking for a useable method to build and sustain a performance in a professional setting.
That is not to say that every actor will not gain insight and inspiration from his words, it's just that those at the start of their career will not have the experience to draw from that Mamet's credo demands.
Spencer Tracy, arguably one of the finest film actors ever, is famously quoted as saying, about acting, "Just say the gags and don't bump into the furniture." This is a bon mot that has been repeated around green rooms and holding areas since Pluto was a pup, but few actors understand the import of it. Mamet sets out to explain exactly what Tracy was talking about (although he never mentions this quote) in a well thought out, brilliantly written argument.
Laurence Olivier once said it took him twenty years to learn how to be simple. Again, this is an important bit of information for the actor who strives for believability and "realness." And again, Mamet's book goes a long way toward educating us about the exact meaning of Olivier's comment.
This is a book that can be read in one sitting but it might take quite awhile for the information to "settle in." I found myself going back and re-reading, underlining and even writing down the many gems Mamet presents. His take on how to deal with producers, casting directors, other actors and critics is worth the price of the book alone.
Not only does he cover the basics of believable acting, the correct position of the actor in the story telling process and several methods of working - he also underscores the importance of the actor's psychology to the entire process of doing well in the acting profession. I found myself nodding in agreement on practically every page. If you can absorb and put to use the skills Mamet espouses, it is inconceivable that you will not become a more employable actor.
We see many actors at the top levels of the business today who can be classified as being of the "Chicago school." Most of these stars and well known character actors are utilizing the methods that Mamet explains. In fact, I don't think it is too much to say that modern acting owes much to David Mamet and those who follow his dictums.
If you have been acting for awhile and you are ready to take the next step in developing your craft, you will be doing yourself a favor by getting, reading and using David Mamet's True and False.
It's a modern classic.